Escape from New York

Escape from New York ★★★½

This is one of those dystopian, near future stories that actually loses something if you don't take into account when it was made. In 1981, New York was only about five years out from being close to declaring bankruptcy, after a couple of years of the Bronx being pretty constantly on fire, and a sustained electrical blackout that led to frenzied looting and the infancy of hip hop. That soon after the famous New York Post headline of FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD, the idea of the federales just foreclosing on New York, which had a national reputation as a crime-ridden shitshow to begin with, and turning it into Skull Island wasn't as far-fetched as it is now. Thanks to outlawing leaded gas and the Giulianization of Times Square, Snake Plissken couldn't afford a fourth-floor walk-up in Manhattan without rooming with both The Brain and Cabbie, let alone get a free, private flight in, let alone one that didn't route him through the continuing hell on Earth that is LaGuardia Airport.

Remembering that time makes buying the premise behind Escape from New York easier, and once you do, you're in for a hell of a fun time. America is crumbling, New York has been made a prison island, and terrorists have seized Air Force One and crashed it on the island, along with President Donald Pleasence. And that alone makes a statement: America is so far gone that we clearly feel we need a savior from our mother country to lead us out of things, Article II of the Constitution be damned... but then again, after 2016, I'd consider a foreign-born president if he could remember a sixth word after "camera" and "TV," preferably one that's actually even a word and not an acronym. But I'm getting off track here.

Police Commissioner Lee Van Cleef conscripts prisoner-to-be Snake Plissken - Kurt Russell doing his best Clint Eastwood impression - to fly into New York and rescue the President. And to make sure Snake shows a sense of urgency about things, Lee shoots two Suicide Squad bombs into his neck that'll blow it off in 24 hours. Showing that, when it comes to the real DC Comic Suicide Squad, who only get one bomb in their necks, Snake Plissken would make Joel Kinnaman his woman. But I keep getting sidetracked here.

Escape from New York is a hoot because it combines so damn many genres into a single movie. It's part cyberpunk science fiction, part spaghetti western, part post-apocalyptic nightmare, part gang flick, and part cannibal holocaust grinder. And at any given time, it turns on a dime between any of them; one minute, Snake's landing a stealth ultralight on the roof of the World Trade Center by instruments, and the next, he's running a gauntlet of cannibalistic savages down Broadway in a converted Dodge Aspen wagon. One minute, Snake's in a sword and shield gladiatorial fight to the death against a monstrosity named Slag, and the next he's in a shootout on the Queensboro Bridge. And it's all happening under a race against a literal clock. It sounds like a mess, but instead, it is all things to all low genre fans.

And my God, the casting. Again, remember the time: Kurt Russell was a former Disney child star who'd done Carpenter's Elvis TV movie, before suddenly becoming a sneering action badass. You've got Issac Hayes, and Issac Hayes's voice, as the Duke of New York. Harry Dean Stanton at his oiliest as The Brain. Ernest Borgnine, Marty himself, as the endearingly earnest Cabbie, implying a fixture of "old" New York, while cheerfully chucking Molotov cocktails at gang members from the roof of his old school Checker cab. And last but not least, Adrianne Barbeau's knockers, playing themselves. It's an inspired murderer's row of talent for a movie that is, honestly, high budget grindhouse fare.

Escape from New York is not brain food, but Goddamn, is it fun for a genre fan. That said, it requires a certain suspension of disbelief, that New York is still a cesspool that should be avoided at almost any cost.

Which, I can only say as a native Bostonian: no fucking problem.

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